This is a story about Les D'Arcy, a quite remarkable man. As a boy he had poor health and missed a considerable amount of schooling. Eventually, after much hard work, he became a teacher at Southdale School and later Ossett Comprehensive School. After retirement he concentrated on sport with remarkable success.
I thank Les's family for checking my facts and agreeing to me publishing this article.
There is not room to put all Les’s attributes in the Title. O.K. he was not from Ossett but was born 11th April 1921 in Wakefield. There are numerous pictures on the Ossett and Gawthorpe Community Archive of Les as a teacher at Southdale School but none when he was at Ossett School. At the schools, as well as his normal teaching duties, he coached youngsters to play table tennis, a sport he loved.
As a child Les had poor health and at one stage suffered with diptheria that kept him bedridden for many months. This obviously affected his education making his later career even more remarkable. However, in 1935 he started work as a labourer in a chemical factory. In 1939, at the outbreak of war, he joined the RAF where he served with their Police to the end in 1945. He was awarded four service medals and maximum good conduct awards. He married Joyce in 1944 during his service.
On coming out of the forces he worked as a labourer but also, at the same time, as a voluntary teacher and night watchman at a cinema. He then studied to become a teacher and qualified in 1949. In the same year he took up a voluntary post at Wakefield YMCA and there he was involved in physical education and sport.
In 1954 he set up The Olympic Boys Club.
He started his teaching career at Queen’s Street School Normanton. He then taught at Southdale School, Ossett before moving to Ossett School (now Ossett Academy).
Whilst at Queen’s Street School he became head of P.E., unpaid Head of Science, Secretary of the Teachers Union, legal representative and National Conference Delegate to the NUT. He had other interests and commitments, too many to mention.
In 1985 Les joined Wakefield Samaritans and organised a sponsored weight lift to help athletes in need of financial support. He also, at this time, took on twice a week coaching at Snapethorpe School and this lasted for 15 years. He also coached at Leeds Carneigie College. In 1989 he was awarded the “Certificate of Merit” for Service to Yorkshire Sport and Recreation – it seems very well deserved.
In the 1990’s he established two disabled table tennis projects and was involved, amongst other things, in the development of a purpose built centre for the Dewsbury Table Tennis League. He also got Kosovan refugees involved in weight lifting, table tennis and chess. He walked The Coast to Coast walk and raised £1,500 and in 2001 walked across Denmark.
He was many times World Table Tennis Champion for his age. In his 60's, as a challenge, he cycled to and from the European Table Tennis Championships in Finland. At the age of 84 he took up athletics and went on to compete at World Level. He held British records for his age group in javelin, hammer, shot and discus. Les wanted to take up pole vaulting but was dissuaded from doing so by his family. He was chosen to carry the Olympic Torch through Market Harbourer in Leicestershire.
In 2012 he was still competing in World Table Tennis Tournaments. In the same year he was instrumental in the making of the documentary film "Ping Pong" in which he was one of the stars. The film followed eight pensioners from around the world as they trained for the table tennis World Championships in Mongolia.
You may not believe it but I have missed out some of his achievements. Les wrote poetry and twice I heard him read some at “inspirational” talks to older people. I would have loved to have added one to this piece of his about “The man who thinks he can” (a phrase used by Les in the trailer to the film Ping Pong below) but unfortunately, after much searching, I cannot find my copy.
Les died in February 2013 at the age of 91 leaving six children, 17 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. What a remarkable man!